Context

This page sets out the Royal Society of New Zealand’s approach to developing and publishing expert advice on important public issues to the government and the community, as set out under its legislation. This covers science, technology, social science and the humanities. It also includes advice and guidelines on best-practice research and protecting the public interest in the discovery and application of new knowledge.  The Society adopts a broad view of “community” that encompasses diversity in backgrounds and perspectives.

The Society adds value through its independence and its focus on trusted peer-reviewed research evidence and expert technical analysis obtained through the breadth of knowledge communities it embraces. The Society is able to access New Zealand’s top experts and scholars in different fields through its Fellows and wider networks. The Society itself is not a research organisation.

Expert advice is supported from a core government grant which funds a small team of 2-3 staff to support the process and publication of advice. The Society operates independently of government in determining its topics and priorities, while staying aware of emerging issues of importance to the government and the community. Experts offer their time voluntarily, with financial support for required travel and related expenses.

The Society guards the independence of its expert advice, and the trust of government and the community in that advice, carefully and does not accept funding from other sources where independence and trust could be undermined. The Society’s expert advice focuses on informing issues and policy responses rather than advocating for particular policies.  However, experts involved in preparing advice are free to pursue their own interests and policy advocacy in their individual capacities.

All advice is published when finalised, under the name of the Society. However, the advice remains the view of the authors. It is published under a Creative Commons license, which allows information to be used as long as the Royal Society of New Zealand is acknowledged. 

Source of topics

Ideas for topics are identified from a variety of sources, including Fellows, Constituent Organisations, Early Career Researchers Forum, Council members and Society staff, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and Departmental Science Advisors, government agencies, other non-profit organisations, overseas academies and organisations, and general intelligence gathered through publications, magazines, other articles, media reports, and communication with the public.

Selection criteria

The Director, Expert Advice and Practice, presents possible new topics to the Expert Advice Subcommittee of Council from time to time, prioritised through consideration of: 

  • Relevance and importance to New Zealand
  • Intended audiences’ receptivity and possibilities for engagement
  • Availability of peer-reviewed research and evidence
  • Feasible pathways to impact
  • Value from the Society’s cross-disciplinary involvement (less emphasis for fact sheets)
  • The Society’s opportunities and risks from involvement

Form of process

The form of process is tailored to the nature of the topic and can include:

  • Longer-term deliberative advice by panels of experts and reference groups on complex issues. The panel process is lead by a panel convenor supported by the Director
  • Submissions to inform government policy proposals or Select Committee processes, prepared and reviewed by Society staff and experts, with fast turnaround
  • Expert peer review of other groups’ evidenced-based work
  • Publication of accessible information and evidence about specific current issues (fact sheets) that do not justify a deliberative process and panel, prepared by the Society and guided and reviewed by a reference group of experts
  • Research practice advice prepared by the Director and Council in consultation with the research sector and other stakeholders as appropriate, with reference to best international practice

Panel and reference group selection criteria

The subcommittee works with the Council and the Society’s networks to identify convenors for deliberative advice panels and expertise for panel and reference group membership, considering:

  • Skill mix, including leadership and communication of complex societal-science issues characterised by multiple world views
  • Expert technical knowledge
  • Knowledge of Mātauranga Māori
  • Diversity and breadth of perspective
  • Interdisciplinary experience
  • Capacity and capability building, including development opportunities for emerging researchers

In identifying expertise for fact sheets, the subcommittee focuses on the range of relevant technical expertise required to provide credible information for public and government consumption.

Terms of reference

Each expert advice and practice programme has a Terms of Reference, informed and approved in draft by Council, which sets out:

  • The working title of the project
  • The scope and objectives of the project
  • Relevant context
  • Intended form of outputs and publication
  • Time frame
  • Guidelines around payment of expenses if relevant
  • Consultation and peer review expectations
  • Any other relevant information

The details of outputs and publications are finalised near the end of the process in line with the outcome and context of the final advice, in consultation with the Society’s communications experts.

The final terms of reference is agreed by the Subcommittee with the convenor of a deliberative advice panel, or project leader in other cases. 

Governance and decision making roles

Council

The Royal Society of New Zealand Council approves this framework, approves topics and draft terms of reference and approves convenors of deliberative panels. Council members also provide input into potential topics, deliberative panel and reference group membership, and development of terms of reference.

Expert Advice Subcommittee

The establishment and day-to-day management and quality assurance of advice development and delivery is delegated to the Expert Advice Subcommittee of Council consisting of the Society’s President, its three Vice-Presidents, the Chief Executive and any co-opted members agreed by the Council. (The President and three Vice Presidents are also members of the Academy Executive, providing an important link to the Academy.)

The subcommittee, under delegated authority, identifies potential topics, determines the process to be followed, approves final terms of reference and approves the expertise to be accessed, including panel and reference group members. The subcommittee satisfies itself that due process is followed, quality standards met and that risks to the Society are managed, and informs Council on these matters.

The Subcommittee may from time to time co-opt additional public policy or other expertise.  The primary staff member supporting the sub-committee is the Director – Expert Advice and Practice.

Quality assurance and acceptance

Quality assurance is an important role of the subcommittee to ensure independence and credibility of advice.  This includes ensuring appropriate consultation occurs as advice is prepared and independent peer review of advice takes place before finalisation and publication.

The expectation in the preparation of deliberative expert advice is for wide consultation with stakeholders.  Council members and Fellows of the Society are also given the opportunity to provide comment prior to finalisation and publication.

Consultation in other cases will be tailored to reflect the timescales of advice turnaround and availability of time and resources to support it.

Peer review of Expert Advice is undertaken by respected independent national and international experts prior to finalisation and publication, and considers:

  • the framing, coverage and completeness of evidence
  • the defensibility of any inferences and conclusions made
  • consistency with the project’s Terms of Reference
  • whether the advice is presented in a way that will be accessible to intended or unexpected audiences

The project leader and authors ensure that that all feedback is properly considered and are responsible for deciding if and how any content feedback is incorporated into the final advice.

The Subcommittee accepts advice for publication once it is satisfied that: (i) the Terms of Reference have been met; (ii) independent peer review has occurred and all feedback has been adequately addressed; and (iii) any risks and opportunities around publication are manageable without further recourse to the Subcommittee.

Neither the Council nor the subcommittee are responsible for the technical content of expert advice prepared by deliberative panels; this remains with the experts and authors.  Council and Subcommittee members are provided an opportunity to provide feedback on draft advice content in their individual capacity as members of the Society, alongside Fellows and other reviewers.

Achieving impact

Effective packaging of information and ongoing communication are important parts of maximising the impact of expert advice, especially for major programmes of deliberative advice.  A variety of channels can be used, tailored to the situation, including published reports, website data, infographics, pamphlets, interactive websites, social media campaigns, follow up meetings and workshops with government stakeholders, and public lectures and debates. This is managed by the Society’s communication team.

Process and impact review

Deliberative advice processes and impact are reviewed with panel members and Society staff within six months of their completion to inform future processes.  Other expert advice projects are informally reviewed as they occur by the Director, Subcommittee, and Chief Executive. The Council is informed about the results of these reviews.